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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Synergistic Effects of Rooted Aquatic Vegetation and Drift Wrack on Ecosystem Multifunctionality

Austin, A. N.; Hansen, J. P.; Donadi, S.; Bergstrom, U.; Eriksson, B. K.; Sundblad, G.; Eklof, J. S.


Ecosystem multifunctionality is an increasingly popular concept used to approximate multifaceted ecosystem functioning, which in turn may help advance ecosystem-based management. However, while experimental studies have shown a positive effect of diversity on multifunctionality, observational studies from natural systems-particularly aquatic-are scarce. Here, we tested the relative importance of species richness and cover of rooted aquatic vegetation, as well as cover of the loose-lying form of the macroalgae bladderwrack (Fucus vesiculosus), for ecosystem multifunctionality in shallow bays along the western Baltic Sea coast. We estimated multifunctionality based on four indicators of functions that support ecosystem services: recruitment of large predatory fish, grazer biomass, inverted 'nuisance' algal biomass, and water clarity. Piecewise path analysis showed that multifunctionality was driven by high cover of rooted aquatic vegetation and bladderwrack, particularly when the two co-occurred. This synergistic effect was nearly three times as strong as a negative effect of land-derived nitrogen loading. Species richness of aquatic vegetation indirectly benefitted multifunctionality by increasing vegetation cover. Meanwhile, high bladderwrack cover tended to decrease vegetation species richness, indicating that bladderwrack has both positive and negative effects on multifunctionality. We conclude that managing for dense and diverse vegetation assemblages may mitigate effects of anthropogenic pressures (for example, eutrophication) and support healthy coastal ecosystems that provide a range of benefits. To balance the exploitation of coastal ecosystems and maintain their multiple processes and services, management therefore needs to go beyond estimation of vegetation cover and consider the diversity and functional types of aquatic vegetation.


Ecosystem functions; Aquatic vegetation; Drift algae; Structural equation modeling (SEM); Diversity; Baltic Sea

Published in

2021, Volume: 24, number: 7, pages: 1670-1686
Publisher: SPRINGER